Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:1–3)
Almost invisible in this great story of Elisha healing Naaman of his leprosy is the young Israelite girl whose simple sentence makes the miracle healing possible. She’s unnamed, and far from home because raiding parties from Aram were pillaging Israel of its food, it’s wealth, and of some of Israel’s people, including this young girl. Naaman has given her to his wife as a maid or a slave girl. What are the prospects for human flourishing for the girl? Not good. Only whatever Naaman’s wife decides her future to be. But the girl’s life is not wasted, and it’s not tragic. She simply speaks what she knows, the there is a good God in Israel, and his servant, the prophet Elisha is being used powerfully by the God of Israel. She’s got faith in Elisha’s God, and says so.
We all have a Frontline where we have some possibility for interaction with those who don’t know and love God. You and I don’t need to be Elisha, just a small person who speaks what she knows in a timely fashion. And God can do amazing things!
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36–37)
Elijah’s prayer is answered! Fire from the LORD falls from heaven, consuming the soggy sacrifice and the altar, and the prophets of Baal are disgraces and soundly defeated. But Elijah’s next prayer is not answered.
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (1 Kings 19:3–5)
Not only does the LORD not grant Elijah’s prayer, but he provides food and sleep for Elijah before bringing him to Mt. Horeb, where Elijah is given a rare experience of the LORD’s presence. The LORD passes near to Elijah much in the same way that the LORD passed by Moses (Exodus 33:21-22). Who else in Scripture gets this privilege?!
It is more important that we pray than that we know what to pray for.
Elisha has just learned that his mentor and father figure, Elijah, will soon be taken from him by the LORD:
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. (2 Kings 2:9–12)
Elisha did see Elijah taken away, which was God’s sign to Elisha that he would be doubly blessed by the Holy Spirit. It makes me think we ask far too little from God. There are certain kinds of requests that God is pleased to grant.
What are you asking for?
Then the king made a huge throne, decorated with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps and a rounded back. There were armrests on both sides of the seat, and the figure of a lion stood on each side of the throne. There were also twelve other lions, one standing on each end of the six steps. No other throne in all the world could be compared with it!
All of King Solomon’s drinking cups were solid gold, as were all the utensils in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon. They were not made of silver, for silver was considered worthless in Solomon’s day!
The king had a fleet of trading ships of Tarshish that sailed with Hiram’s fleet. Once every three years the ships returned, loaded with gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. (1 Kings 10:18–22)
Solomon had the best of everything, and of some things he had more than anyone else did. We have to ask: How much is enough? In our culture the temptation to upgrade is constant, isn’t it? Do we even recognize it as temptation? Not every upgrade is a sin, but how do we discern among the many options? That’s a good question, but not the first one to ask. First is: How much can I give? Then we can begin to sort out lifestyle options.
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Solomon spared no expense in providing for himself, and it was his undoing.
The LORD appeared a second time to Solomon:
“As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws,
I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’" (1 Kings 9:4–5)
Solomon was only about 20 years old when he ascended the throne. He asked God for wisdom and God was pleased to grant it. The LORD desired to bless Israel with peace and prosperity, and to bless the world through his people Israel.
But of course just as there are consequences to good actions, there are consequences to evil actions.
“But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples." (1 Kings 9:6–7)
Much of the rest of the book of 1 & 2 Kings is the sad story the decline of Israel because of the failure of her kings, Solomon included. There are a few good kings who have a heart for God, and for a time and to a degree they stem the tide. But Solomon squanders the wisdom given him, and Israel must wait a different savior. It won’t be Solomon, but one of his descendants.
Then the priests carried the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple—the Most Holy Place—and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the Ark, forming a canopy over the Ark and its carrying poles. These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place, which is in front of the Most Holy Place, but not from the outside. They are still there to this day. Nothing was in the Ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Mount Sinai, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel when they left the land of Egypt.
When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the LORD. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the LORD filled the Temple of the LORD. (1 Kings 8:6–11)
In all the complexity and chaos of the life of Solomon, king of Israel, we must not overlook the powerful moment when the presence of the LORD fills the newly built Temple. It’s a display of beauty and power meant to remind Israel of the holiness and nearness of God. God is with his people because he loves them and claims them as his treasured possession.
Today the Church is the dwelling place of God’s spirit, his presence. See what the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16–17)
May the beauty and power of God’s presence be noticeable among us today.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to avert certain disaster with a tool that’s freely available and can be used by anyone who is willing to practice? How would you use that tool if you had it?
Asking good questions is a great tool to have in your relational toolbox. This woman used it skillfully:
When Joab’s forces arrived, they attacked Abel-beth-maacah. They built a siege ramp against the town’s fortifications and began battering down the wall. But a wise woman in the town called out to Joab, “Listen to me, Joab. Come over here so I can talk to you.”
As he approached, the woman asked, “Are you Joab?”
“I am,” he replied.
So she said, “Listen carefully to your servant.”
“I’m listening,” he said.
Then she continued, “There used to be a saying, ‘If you want to settle an argument, ask advice at the town of Abel.’ I am one who is peace loving and faithful in Israel. But you are destroying an important town in Israel. Why do you want to devour what belongs to the LORD?” (2 Samuel 20:15–19)
The unnamed woman got to the heart of the matter (and the danger) by asking an open-ended question. The question was open-ended because it couldn't be answered Yes or No. Her question got Joab to clarify what his purpose was. He wasn’t there to destroy the town, but to track down a rebel that had hidden himself there. Her wise question opened the way for the town and Joab to work together for a mutually beneficial end, greatly reducing collateral damage.
Good questions are a pretty handy tool to be handy with.
How could you use this great tool?
The king then crossed over to Gilgal, taking Kimham with him. All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel escorted the king on his way.
But all the men of Israel complained to the king, “The men of Judah stole the king and didn’t give us the honor of helping take you, your household, and all your men across the Jordan.”
The men of Judah replied, “The king is one of our own kinsmen. Why should this make you angry? We haven’t eaten any of the king’s food or received any special favors!”
“But there are ten tribes in Israel,” the others replied. “So we have ten times as much right to the king as you do. What right do you have to treat us with such contempt? Weren’t we the first to speak of bringing him back to be our king again?” The argument continued back and forth, and the men of Judah spoke even more harshly than the men of Israel. (2 Samuel 19:40–43)
Why do petty slights take on such significance and cause such deep hurt?
Hey— who are you calling “petty”? That hurts!
Don’t be stupid. I didn’t call you petty.
Now you’re calling me stupid! I’ll get you for that!
…and on it goes.
Why? Honor is a pretty big deal to most of us, even most of us who think it’s not. Why else would we get so heated? Why else would we be so insistent on clearing up any misunderstanding that makes us look bad?
The book Fruitfulness on the Frontline, by Mark Greene urges Christians to see their ordinary lives as their primary place to serve God. Along with Modeling Godly Character and Ministering Grace and Love, Greene points out that there comes a time in everyone’s life when they must be a Mouthpiece for Truth and Justice. The context for speaking out might be quite small, perhaps within one’s own family. King David missed his opportunity more than once. So did Absalom when he learned that his sister, Tamar, was raped.
She was wearing a long, beautiful robe, as was the custom in those days for the king’s virgin daughters. But now Tamar tore her robe and put ashes on her head. And then, with her face in her hands, she went away crying.
Her brother Absalom saw her and asked, “Is it true that Amnon has been with you? Well, my sister, keep quiet for now, since he’s your brother. Don’t you worry about it.” So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house.
When King David heard what had happened, he was very angry. And though Absalom never spoke to Amnon about this, he hated Amnon deeply because of what he had done to his sister. (2 Samuel 13:18–22)
David knew the truth of the awful wrong done to Tamar by his own son, Amnon, but he said nothing. Absalom her brother also knew, but said nothing and did nothing for two years. Those closest to the situation did not act, and became part of the problem.
Advocating for justice is popular, even fashionable, in addressing public issues. For most of us the greater issues of justice and truth are played out in our every day lives, and we will have opportunities to speak a timely word.
What might you need to speak up about?
Now Absalom was praised as the most handsome man in all Israel. He was flawless from head to foot. He cut his hair only once a year, and then only because it was so heavy. When he weighed it out, it came to five pounds! (2 Samuel 14:24–26)
After this, Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. He got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe. Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” (2 Samuel 15:1–4)
Absalom was the third son of King David, whose mother was the daughter of the king of Aram. The above two glimpses of Absalom’s life give a clear enough look at his character: he is vain and manipulative. And let’s not forget he murdered his half-brother, Amnon. He also lusts for power, and ousts his own father, David, in a bid to become King of Israel. And the people of Israel loved Absalom— for a time.
Every group needs leadership. Some groups are content to have a leader whose personality or appearance wins the day, a leader whose promises are a smoke screen for their character flaws and hidden agenda.
What do we need from a good leader? What makes a leader truly good?
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)
Christchurch Evangelical Covenant • 1900 Congress Street • Portland, Maine 04102 • 207-775-1900 • firstname.lastname@example.org